Dear Crucial Skills,
Each day I plan to complete three major tasks, three thirty-minute tasks, and a few five- to ten-minute tasks. I can squeeze in some five- to ten-minute tasks in between my major tasks, but now my thirty-minute tasks have piled up because they never make it to the top of my list. What should I do?
This is only a problem if the work you decided to do is less important than the work you postponed or neglected. If that’s the case, then we need to discuss how you got sucked into working on less important stuff. But if you did the more important work, then you shouldn’t be too stressed. Even well-balanced productive people have to-dos they are NOT doing at any given moment. The key is to feel good about those to-dos that aren’t getting done.
For example, as I write this article, I estimate I have ninety to one hundred to-dos I am NOT doing. And I feel totally fine, totally present. Why? Because I know exactly what those to-dos are, I have them inventoried, and I’ve deliberately deemed them less important than writing this response to you.
Here are some things you can do to achieve this feeling yourself.
Keep an Inventory
Most people keep an inventory of every commitment they’ve made in their heads. Get ALL of those agreements and to-dos out of your head and onto paper or a device so they’re visible and you can manage them. A thorough inventory improves your ability to judge what’s important and what’s not because you can see how each task relates to your goals and priorities. Remember, you can only feel at peace with what you’re not doing when you have a clear inventory of everything you’re not doing.
Check the Right Stuff First
When you start your day, look at your calendar and task lists before you dive into emails or messages. Don’t get caught in the latest and loudest. Start by getting clear on what’s most important. I’m guessing that most of your thirty-minute tasks are more important than those five-minute tasks.
Shun the Latest and Loudest
Just because something seems urgent, doesn’t mean it should take precedence over your thirty-minute tasks. Learn to turn off your email and shut your door when it’s time to do those longer tasks. Those may seem like menial tips, but the impact can be massive.
Plan for Surprises
Urgent and unexpected requests are inevitable. So why not make time for them? Block a small amount of time every day or every other day for responding to the latest and loudest, and don’t respond outside of that allotted time.
Have a Crucial Conversation
For every task or agreement you’ve committed to, you only have three choices: do it, don’t do it, or renegotiate the commitment. If you are legitimately doing the right stuff at the right times and still aren’t completing tasks on time, then you need to have a renegotiation conversation with those who are counting on you. I love what my mentor David Allen said, “Organizations must create a culture in which it is acceptable that everyone has more to do than he or she can do, and in which it is sage to renegotiate agreements about what everyone is not doing.”
Trust me, there is no one on earth who gets it all done. You need to decide how you want to feel about having more than you realistically can do. Conflicting priorities and finite time are the reality of life. Your ability to be more productive with less stress depends on what you do to manage that reality.